Sank or Sunk: Which Is Correct? (Helpful Examples)

The past tense can be tricky to figure out, especially when looking at irregular verbs. This article will look at the past tense of “sink” and how we can use the two past tense verb forms when creating a sentence.

Sank or Sunk: Which Is Correct?

“Sank” is the simple past tense, which we use when talking about something “sinking” in the past. “Sunk” is the past participle, which doesn’t do much on its own and requires an auxiliary verb like “have.” It refers to something that’s started happening and continues to happen.

Sank or Sunk: Which Is Correct?
  • I sank to the bottom of the ocean in my dream.
  • The ship has sunk, and there’s nothing more we can do to save it.

“Sank” is the simple past tense. We call it that because it’s the “simplest” past tense form to use. It requires no extra verbs or language cues; we simply need a pronoun like “I” to make it work.

On the other hand, “sunk” is the past participle. On its own, it makes no sense. We need to include an auxiliary verb (in this example, we used “has”). When alongside an auxiliary, the past participle turns into the perfect tense.

Remember these forms to help you understand “sink:”

Past ParticipleSunk
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When Is “Sank” Correct?

We’ll start with the easiest of the two forms, which is “sank.”

“Sank” is the simple past tense. It works when we want to talk about something sinking in the past. The simple past tense requires no extra language rules.

We call it “simple” for a reason. The only thing we need with the past tense verb “sank” is a pronoun. For example:

  • It sank
  • He sank
  • We sank
  • She sank

All of these pronouns are correct, and “sank” never changes form with them.

Example Sentences Using “Sank”

Some examples will help you to understand when “sank” makes sense:

  1. The Titanic sank over 100 years ago.
  2. You sank so low when you decided that you’d say something like that to me.
  3. We sank our battleships at the same time, making the game a lot more interesting.
  4. She sank to a new level, which I never knew she was capable of.
  5. What was the name of that boat that sank about ten years ago?
  6. Which of these ships was the last one that sank?

“Sank” refers to something “sinking” in the past. It’s an event that has been and gone, and there’s nothing that can be done to change the event or outcome in the present.

When Is “Sunk” Correct?

“Sunk” requires more thought, so this section will be longer. It’s the past participle, which works in three different past tense forms.

“Sunk” is the past participle of the present tense verb “sink.” It turns into one of three present tenses when an auxiliary verb is introduced, including the past, present, and future tense. Each tense works differently to talk about things that have happened or can happen.

To help shed some light on the different perfect tenses, we’ll show you which auxiliary verbs we need to use:

  • Past perfect: Had sunk
  • Present perfect: Have sunk
  • Future perfect: Will have sunk

“Sunk” always stays the same. There is never a need to change the verb form of “sunk,” as the past participle is standard.

The auxiliary is what we change in these tenses, and we do so by swapping its tense around based on whether we’re using the past, present, or future tense.

The past perfect tense uses “had” to talk about something that’s “sunk” in the past, although it might have some kind of impact in the present.

The present perfect tense uses “have” to talk about something that started “sinking” previously. However, it is still sinking now or has only just finished “sinking” in the present.

The future perfect uses “will have” as a double auxiliary verb. It refers to events that may happen and lead to “sinking” based on our actions in the present and what we choose to do with them.

Example sentences using “Sunk”

The examples alone won’t be enough to help you here. That’s why we’ve split them into three sections (once for each perfect tense). We find that to be much more useful for our language enthusiasts!

Past Perfect

  1. I had sunk to a new level when I decided to tell her all of my best friend’s secrets.
  2. The boat had sunk once before, and we weren’t going to let that happen again.

“Had sunk” is the past perfect. It talks about something that we know to be true in the past, as it has already happened. However, we can also do something to change the outcome if need be.

Present Perfect

  1. They have sunk off the coast of Egypt, and we don’t know if there’s anything more we can do for them.
  2. It has sunk again, making it the most disastrous ship ever to set sail!

“Have sunk” is the present perfect tense. It works by talking about something sinking in the past (even if only a few seconds ago) and continuing to do so or finishing the action in the present.

Future Perfect

  1. She will have sunk one too many times if she goes down again on this journey!
  2. You will have sunk to all new lows if you go through with this.

“Will have sunk” is the future perfect tense. We use it to set up hypothetical scenarios (often using an “if” clause). These scenarios could come true based on our actions in the present.

“Have Sank” Vs. “Have Sunk”

“Have sunk” is correct because an auxiliary is required with the past participle. We do not use “have sank” because “sank” is the simple past tense. No auxiliaries are needed in this case.

  • Correct: You have sunk my battleship.
  • Incorrect: We have sank the boat for your own good.

Final Thoughts

“Have sunk” and “sank” are the two verb forms. We include an auxiliary (“have”) with the past participle “sunk” for the perfect tense. We do not need any auxiliaries for “sank,” which is the simple past tense. However, both forms relate to past events, so we need to know both.

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